Antigenic and genetic variations have been analyzed in eight consecutive isolates recovered from a child with severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome persistently infected with naturally acquired type A (H1N1) influenza virus over a 10-month period. Hemagglutination inhibition reactions and T1 oligonucleotide fingerprinting demonstrated that these viruses were related to strains causing outbreaks in the United States at that time (1983 to 1984) but that antigenic and genetic differences between consecutive isolates could be detected. This variation between isolates was examined further by sequencing the RNAs encoding the HA1 region of the hemagglutinin (HA) and the nucleoprotein (NP) in five of the consecutive isolates. Multiple point mutations were detected in both genes, and a deletion of one amino acid was detected in the HA. Depending on the isolates compared, 5.8 x 10(-3) to 17 x 10(-3) substitutions per nucleotide site per year were detected in the RNAs encoding the HA1, and 3.5 x 10(-3) to 24 x 10(-3) substitutions per nucleotide site per year were detected in the NP gene. Fifty-four percent of the base changes in the HA1 and 73% in the NP led to amino acid substitutions. A progressive accumulation of mutations over time was not observed, suggesting that the genetic diversity of these viruses may best be interpreted as the result of shifts in the population equilibrium (quasi-species) of replicating variant genomes.